- Shadows by Robin McKinley
The creeping, tentacled shadows that follow Maggie’s new stepdad around have the seventeen-year-old girl worried. Since she’s the only one who can see them, they might mean that she’s going crazy or, even worse, that she has the ability to see and possibly interact with magic, a big no-no in the science-focused, magic-abolishing state that is Newworld. Before she can decide whether or not to go to the authorities, however, a “cobie,” a cohesion break in Newworld’s reality, sends everyone into a panic, and Maggie discovers that the shadows are actually quiet friendly little critters, her stepdad is an Oldworld magician (and a powerful one at that), and that her magical powers might mean she’s the only one standing between Newworld and its demise. This is a tricky combination of genre tropes—a Big Brother–type of dystopian government, a clueless but powerful savior from fantasy, and the interpersonal dynamics of a family drama—but McKinley crafts them all with a deft hand, spooling out each element with a careful deliberation that allows them to coalesce into a fully formed story. Intricate world building is matched with rich characterization; a bit moody, a bit flighty, and all teenager, Maggie makes a relatable protagonist, and her wisecracks and astute observations help readers gain ground in this eerily familiar but nonetheless complex world of old magic, new science, and breaks in reality. The secondary cast, including the requisite dual love interests, are afforded depth and nuance as well, rounding out the setting for the ensuing emotional drama. Fans of McKinley will recognize her penchant for animal-human connections in Maggie’s affectionate guardianship of the shadows, while other readers will find this a compelling entry point to the author’s work.